Showing posts with label Steve Ashe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Steve Ashe. Show all posts

Friday, March 20, 2020

Steve Ashe #02 - I Like It Tough

I was thrilled to see that Cutting Edge Books has chosen to reprint James A. Howard’s fantastic Steve Ashe novels as ebooks and new-edition paperbacks. The four-book series from 1954-1957 stars a rough and ready pilot-boxer-reporter unafraid to fight dirty. The series served as an early prototype for the kinds of serial vigilante adventures popularized by Pinnacle Books in the 1970s. “I Like It Tough” from 1955 is the second Steve Ashe adventure, and it’s probably best for the series to be read in its proper order.

The story opens with Steve regaining consciousness in a Colorado hospital room a day after using his body to stop some bullets during the climactic ending of Steve Ashe #1: “I’ll Get You Yet.” The opening chapter does a thorough job of bringing readers up to speed on the events of the first novel. As such, if you read Book 2 first, you’ve just spoiled Book 1 for yourself. The short version is that Steve successfully dismantled the upper-echelon of the Denver syndicate. Are they gone forever? Or will The Outfit regroup?

A package bomb arrives at the hospital room killing Steve’s girl, so we know that Steve’s one-man war against the mafia definitely isn’t over. Steve’s new eye-for-an-eye target is Vito Gaesinni, a mobster filling the void left by the dead wise guys from the previous novel. The path to find Vito brings Steve to Los Angeles and into the orbit of some interesting side characters who become part of Steve’s manhunt plan. As with the first novel, the fact that Steve’s career as a journalist has zero relevance to the plot. He’s just a badass adventurer cleaning up the streets of L.A.

Early in the novel, Steve befriends (and lays) a prostitute with a heart of gold named Sylvia. Vito had paid Sylvia for sex and companionship in the recent past, so the hope is that she can provide Steve some insight into his prey. In Los Angeles, he connects with a psychologist operating a sanitarium treating a narcotics-addicted magazine illustrator with a sexy personal secretary. The scourge of drugs - particularly the terrifying and insidious “marijuana” - lurks in the background of the paperback and takes a human toll on many of the characters.

There’s a legitimate mystery to solve in the heart of “I Like It Tough,” and it involves a shadowy corporation paying the bills for the drunken illustrator and their possible connection to the narcotics trade. Is it a publishing industry outfit licensing illustration art? Or a mob front insuring the silence of people who know too much? The vendetta story and the mystery compliment each other nicely throughout the violent, fast-moving pages leading to a climactic conclusion.

I have no idea if Don Pendleton ever read the work of James L. Howard, but they were certainly flying in the same airspace 20 years apart. “I Like It Tough” is another winner in the short-lived Steve Ashe series. Thank heavens these books are back in print as this series certainly deserves to be remembered. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Steve Ashe #01 - I'll Get You Yet

After serving in World War 2, James Howard (1922-2000) earned a doctorate in psychology and began writing crime novels as a side hustle. He put his name on the literary map with a four-book series starring journalist Steve Ashe published between 1954 and 1957. The first book in the series was “I’ll Get You Yet” published by Popular Library’s Eagle Books imprint with misleading and uninspired cover art.

As the story opens, unemployed newspaperman Steve Ashe is leaving Neon City for the greener pastures of Omaha. His truck driving buddy Scotty is giving him a lift in a big rig when they narrowly evade an collision with a sedan careening out of control on the snowy highway. After both the truck and the sedan come to a stop after scraping one another, the men rush over to the car to find the female driver beaten within an inch of her life. The damage to her face far exceeds what could have been caused by the mere sideswiping of Scotty’s truck.

After the woman regains consciousness and the blood is cleaned off her face, Steve recognizes his old childhood crush, Vicki. She’s running from a Denver syndicate boss named Mario Carazzi whose goons roughed her up and forced her 17 year-old sister Gina into prostitution by getting the kid hooked on dope. Steve agrees to rescue Gina for Vicki while exacting some revenge on the mobster and his goons. With this promising set-up, we are off to a very Mack Bolan-esque start.

Today we call it “human trafficking,” but in 1954 it was “white slavery” and mobster Carazzi controls the action on the 1,100 mile stretch between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Helena, Montana. Steve begins his hunt in Omaha tracking the syndicate muscle who worked over Vicki. At times, this really felt more like a well-written 1970s Pinnacle book with one man on a revenge mission against the underworld than a 1954 crime paperback. But whatever the era, “I’ll Get You Yet” is some primo vendetta stuff - albeit without a pure vigilante edge - starring a stalwart hero with a self-deprecating sweetie worth avenging.

Steve’s way to ingratiate himself into Carazzi’s organization is to pose as an amateur heavyweight boxer seeking to rise through the pro ranks. It helps that Steve really knows how to use his fists in a scrape, so fans of pugilistic drama will enjoy the boxing segments of “I’ll Get You Yet.” When things go sideways for the hero, there are plenty of outstanding action set pieces. The fact that Ashe is a newspaper reporter is largely irrelevant to the plot until the very end and may play a bigger part later in the series. For the purposes of this debut novel, he’s just a badass. Of course, all of this leads to the climactic confrontation between Steve and Carazzi that you won’t soon forget.

I previously read and reviewed Howard’s stand-alone novel, “Murder Takes a Wife.” It was decent but nowhere near as awesome as this opening installment in the Steve Ashe series. Ignore the lame cover art. This one is a balls-out, hardboiled, 1950s action paperback written for guys like us. I’m confident you will love this paperback as much as I did. It’s really something special.


Steve Ashe series by James Howard:

1. I’ll Get You Yet (1954)
2. I Like It Tough (1955)
3. Blow out my Torch (1956)
4. Die on Easy Street (1957)

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Monday, January 6, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 25

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 25, the guys take a deep dive into the world of Nick Carter: Killmaster. Tom introduces listeners to James Howard’s obscure Steve Ashe series, and Eric reviews the nautical heist classic, “Hell Ship to Kuma.” Check it out on your favorite podcast app or listen online at Stream the show below or on any podcast service. You can also download the episode directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 25: Nick Carter: Killmaster" on Spreaker.